Review of Jaron Lanier’s “Who Owns the Future” – or how to extrapolate from false premises

I just finished reading Jaron Lanier‘s “Who Owns the Future” so I will share some of my impressions of this book.  I was actually surprised at how few people were familiar with Lanier when I mentioned that I was reading him at various outings over the past few weeks.    So I guess it’s worth reviewing who this dreadlocked, ancient instrument playing macher is.  First off he wrote “You Are not a Gadget” which I haven’t read but I guess is an attack on the debasement of media by Web 2.0 which allowed the voices of the anonymous, unwashed masses to drown out the truly talented and is leading to the downfall of culture or something.  You might go read “Digital Maoism” if you are interested.  I am sure our friend Bert would have plenty to add if he cared to.  I don’t want to start a fight or anything,   but I will say that experts are probably somewhat overrated and leave it at that for now.

The premise of Lanier’s new book “Who Owns the Future” is that big data players are shrinking the economy by leveraging the largest servers to achieve information supremacy and then radiating risk out into the world.  So big servers don’t just radiate waste heat, they expel risk as well.  And they do this by forgetting apparently. Reversible computers don’t get hot and in Jaron’s ideal world remembering the provenance of data would balance risk.  But I am getting ahead of myself.  Lanier calls these big data players “Siren Servers”

A Siren Server, as I will refer to such a thing, is an elite computer, or coordinated collection of computers, on a network. It is characterized by narcissism, hyperamplified risk aversion, and extreme information asymmetry. It is the winner of an all-or-nothing contest, and it inflicts smaller all-or-nothing contests on those who interact with it.


Siren Servers gather data from the network, often without having to pay for it. The data is analyzed using the most powerful available computers, run by the very best available technical people. The results of the analysis are kept secret, but are used to manipulate the rest of the world to advantage.


That plan will always eventually backfire, because the rest of the world cannot indefinitely absorb the increased risk, cost, and waste dispersed by a Siren Server. Homer sternly warned sailors to not succumb to the call of the sirens…


Lanier, Jaron (2013-05-07). Who Owns the Future? (p. 50). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

Lanier’s Siren Servers span many industries:  Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Walmart are all Siren Servers.  The insurance companies that only want to insure those that don’t need insurance qualify, as do the financial firms that packaged up those sub-prime mortgages and the ones that continue to engage in high frequency trading.  Now that’s a lot of ground to cover and my friend Robin once warned me to be wary of any idea that seems capable of explaining every possible phenomenon.  To the man with a hammer

But Lanier does make some good arguments about the creepy and damaging nature of big data in business.  One big glaring problem I see is that he asserts that they are shrinking the economy.  Now I went to see him speak at the JCCSF last month and he said  during his talk that he wants his ideas to be tested empirically.  So I tried to dig up data that suggests the world economy has shrunk since oh, 1995.  I mean he tries to point to the debt and slow growth of the US and Europe as evidence but you can’t just ignore globalization.  Even he admits that this big data approach allowed Walmart to peacefully manage the rise of China.  These Siren Servers have helped enable globalization.  So it seems reasonable to look at the effect of the internet on world GDP or GWP and not just the US GDP.  I looked at the World Bank website which has some kludgy tools online.  I am not much of a researcher, but it seems like world economic growth has been pretty decent in spite of the internet.  Thus, one of Lanier’s main premises might be ill-founded.  Where is the evidence that markets are actually shrinking in the first place, let alone that this hypothetical shrinkage is caused by the internet?

Sure, I can see how Google Translate could in theory put translators out of work, but an empiricist should demand to see the numbers.  Surely Lanier could have employed a human to look up employment rates and wages of translators before and after the launch of Google Translate.  But he didn’t, he just asserts that Google is shrinking markets.   I could tell a story about how Google Translate enables millions of small businesses to roughly communicate with billions of customers who speak other languages.  So screw the translators that can’t keep up.  (Just kidding, Google Translate still sort of sucks.  Human translators aren’t obsolete yet.)  But that’s my problem with Lanier’s book.  He examines how these Siren Servers operate and then imagines how they must be impacting the world but then doesn’t actually show plausible evidence of causation.  Sure, the finance industry’s big meltdowns and those too-big-to-fail bailouts were bullshit.  But was that really caused by having servers that were too big?  Or did the regulation get a little too loose?  I say let them have their servers and bring back Glass-Steagall.  Then there is some utterly bogus comparison between the number of people Kodak employed compared to Instagram.  Uh, hello, some people were employed making all the smartphones that instagram runs on.  Also, last time I checked, dedicated cameras were still being produced. Get with it, Jaron.

I don’t want to be too negative about Lanier.  I agree with him that the middle class needs artificial levees to exist.  This was recently illustrated to me by Ananya Roy‘s talk at TEDx Berkeley this year. I also get that having a middle class is probably important since the uber rich simply won’t purchase enough super-yachts to keep the economy chugging along.  But I just have to facepalm in response when Lanier’s ultimate solution seems to be that everyone should get paid for the use of their data.  I mean, err, what planet are you living on again?  Sure, Ted Nelson‘s two-way links and other Xanadu visions would have helped preserve the provenance of data somewhat, but Lanier dramatically downplays the technical challenges.  I once heard Dan Kaminsky give a talk where he said something like: the internet we have now is in place because it’s the only thing the engineers could patch together that didn’t crash all the time.

But even if we imagine that some technical solution could be made to work, the real problem with this is that people don’t expect to get paid for generating data.  That’s the crux of the problem.  How do we get to a culture where people expect to get paid for their damn data?  Lanier imagines a cabal of alpha Siren Server owners getting together and agreeing to pay for data to prevent the economy from crashing.  Ha, if only the plutocrats were so wise.  We don’t have enough Elon Musks up there in the billionaire social stratosphere I’m afraid.  It seems that Lanier imagines that if only he and his elite network pioneer buddies had made a few crucial design changes at the dawn of the internet then this would have all played out better and we would have a more humanistic information economy.  But I have my doubts.  The internet is probably just as deeply shaped by human nature, politics, and even religion as it shaped by technology.  The tech folks can put stuff out there, but it’s a complex combination of factors that will determine what sticks and what doesn’t.  I wish this was just a network topology design problem.

Now let’s say that I am sympathetic to the whole Lights in the Tunnel theory.  Maybe technology will shrink markets if handled incorrectly.  Lanier makes another assumption that I take exception to.  He simply takes for granted that there would be a messy revolution if automation crashes the economy too badly.  I actually doubt it.  Armies already have more than enough technology to put down a revolution.  It seems clear now that Egypt’s revolution was a farce and that the army only stood aside to welcome their new Islamist overlords.  Look at Syria.  Look at the USA.  There is no way that the US public could overthrow the US military.

One might imagine that our military is made up of Americans who would never kill fellow Americans.  But you know, there are Americans and then there are AMERICANS.  And even that distinction will rapidly become moot anyway.  Autonomous military drones could well make revolution completely impossible.  So no, you don’t get to threaten the plutocrats with revolution to make them crack open their pocketbooks and start sharing the wealth.  They are way ahead of you on that front.  But of course I am being melodramatic again.  The elites have a whole slew of non-lethal revolution defusing tools.  Take mass media for example.

At the end of the day, I do want content creators to get paid and I see that this is a real problem right now.  I dutifully paid for my copy of “Who Owns the Future” by the way.  Maybe Amazon will be the company to save content.  Maybe it will take an  internet business model that is actually based on something other than selling advertisement.  But if I could come up with that, I wouldn’t publish it here.  I would hightail it right down to Sandhill Road and cash it in…  Oh, pardon me, daydreaming again.  Anyway, I like Lanier.  His heart is in the right place, he points out some ugly aspects of big data.  But as I said, he isn’t empirical enough for my taste and he is a bit overly infatuated with the idea of experts.  Also, his silver bullet solution of creating an information economy based on individuals selling their data is ludicrous for a large number of reasons.  Nonetheless, it’s good to have these contrarian futurists out there shouting at the vast machine that is bearing down on us all.

[UPDATE: 6/9/2013]

Bert did chime in thank goodness, expand the comments to see his outstanding contribution.  I did want to address the question of shrinking markets.  Bert found this list of 10 shrinking US markets that does seem to have reputable providence.

The full list is below:

Sector Revenue 2010 (in millions) Decline 2000-2010 Forecast Decline 2010-2016 Establish- ments 2010 Decline 2000-2010 Forecast Decline 2010-2016
Wired Telecommunications Carriers $154,096 -54.9% -37.1% 23,474 -10.5% -15.9%
Mills $54,645 -50.2% -10.0% 9,553 -23.6% -12.8%
Newspaper Publishing $40,726 -35.9% -18.8% 6,128 -28.6% -17.6%
Apparel Manufacturing $12,800 -77.1% -8.5% 2,265 -60.5% -11.3%
DVD, Game & Video Rental $7,839 -35.7% -19.3% 17,369 -34.8% -11.2%
Manufactured Home Dealers $4,538 -73.7% -62.0% 3,968 -56.7% -58.7%
Video Postproduction Services $4,276 -24.9% -10.7% 1,789 -43.2% -37.8%
Record Stores $1,804 -76.3% -39.7% 2,916 -77.4% -11.6%
Photofinishing $1,603 -69.1% -39.1% 7,083 -59.3% -33.3%
Formal Wear & Costume Rental $736 -35.0% -14.6% 2,310 -28.5% -17.0%

It raises the question of what is meant by “Siren Servers shrink markets.”  Does Lanier mean US markets or world markets?  I argue that world markets are more relevant, but let’s take a closer look at the list above.  Some of the markets (mills, apparel) is probably caused by globalization and we would expect to see corresponding increases in developing markets. Some of the shrinking markets are almost certainly offset by increases in other areas.  Land lines suffer while wireless booms.  Newspapers and Record stores are part of that troublesome content problem and I will concede the point that the internet has hurt those markets and will continue to do so until we come up with a better way for content creators to get paid.  Also decreases in video postproduction or photofinishing ARE arguably due to software eating their lunch.  Technically, Lanier wasn’t ranting against all software, just the big data stuff that requires the personal data of millions to be effective.  At the end of the day, I would just say it’s hard to track which of these shrinkages aren’t offset by real growth elsewhere.  For example, does the fact that video postproduction is easier to achieve with software make it cheaper to create good looking video?  Couldn’t this translate into an expanded market for video in general?

11 thoughts on “Review of Jaron Lanier’s “Who Owns the Future” – or how to extrapolate from false premises

  1. Pingback: Lanier’s answer to the NSA’s PRISM privacy problem | The Oakland Futurist

  2. Scott, you’re bashing my boy Jaron; but of course, you already knew that wouldn’t sit well with me – that’s why you called me out. Let me say, first of all, that I haven’t (yet) read Lanier’s new book. I’m dying to, though, so if you’d be so kind, Scott, let’s take part in the nascent “sharing economy” and swap books – my You Are Not a Gadget for your Who Owns the Future. I’m sure we can find some app that can act as an intermediary for the transaction to help us shrink the economy ever-so-slightly (since I will not be buying Lanier’s new book and you not his old). Otherwise, we can shrink the economy the old fashioned way: next time I see you we can just do the hand-off in person. Also, I really, really, really wanted to go see his talk in San Francisco; but alas, it started too early, and I had to work too late. I know this is off the subject, but I really hate how everything in San Francisco starts and ends early. I mean, come on, I’ve had to scramble to get to punk rock shows that start at 6pm. It’s just ridiculous. All the old rich people, and the new young rich people, and especially whatever jacklegs came up with SF’s current noise and zoning regulations, need to take a hike or blow it out their ear or something. The city is turning (actually, has already turned) into a sterile agar slab that is more like a Lake Woebegone with insane traffic than the San Francisco of old that had been wrapped up with the Beats, civil rights, S.D.S. activists, the Summer of Love, and Jimmy and Janis. San Francisco is now primarily a city for professionals and business people – you know, people who wear suits and leather shoes everyday, who let their hair down one week a year to go hang out with other yuppies at Burning Man. All the cool people are moving to Oakland, and it’s not just for the futurist meet-ups, drive-bys, and marijuana bars.

    Ok, back to business.

    Scott, Scott, Scott, Scott, Scott, Scott, Scott (imagine me saying this while looking down and shaking my head). Are you really trying to say that the internet is not shrinking economies (let’s swap the word market for economy)? Granted, it hasn’t shrunken EVERY market, but it most certainly is shrinking, nay, DESTROYING, many markets – at least the ones that can be digitized or where information or data is the main currency. Everyone’s favorite example is the music industry, which has been hobbled as a direct result of the internet and digitization. I don’t think anyone can deny, with a straight face, the connection between music industry contraction and growth of internet usage. I would even go so far to assert that the internet is not only contracting the industry, but it is also making the remaining stuff much worse. There are actually more bands and more musicians than ever, it’s just that fewer and fewer of them are able to cobble together a dignified living (Lanier likes to throw around the word “dignity” when referring to artist’s ability to make money from their “hearts and their heads”) because of the precipitous contraction of the music markets. If you combine these facts – that there are every increasing numbers of musicians using digital platforms to distribute their stuff, but fewer and fewer professional opportunities – it logically follows that the proportion of shitty music will increase over time. Fewer professional opportunities makes for fewer talented people going into music. The difference between the total number of music makers and talented professionals is filled largely with digital narcissists and the mental diarrhea of dilettantes. Look at Mumford and Sons – man do they suck! And they’re one of the biggest bands in the world. This shittifying effect of the internet is relevant to many markets. Anyway, if you don’t believe that many economies are shrinking, just take a look at this totally reliable data set that I lifted from some blog. And don’t forget, if you’re a supporter of Digital Maoism, or more specifically, a denier of Saint Lanier, you’re not allowed to tell me that my sources are suspect. I got the data below from – it shows numerous U.S. sectors/economies/markets that have contracted drastically between 2000 and 2010 due to internet disruption.

    Wired Telecom Carriers: 55% decline in revenue between 2000-2010
    Mills: 50% decline in revenue between 2000-2010
    Newspaper publishing: 36% decline in revenue between 2000-2010
    Apparel manufacturing: 77% decline in revenue between 2000-2010
    DVD/Game/Video rental: 36% decline in revenue between 2000-2010
    Video post-production services: 25% decline in revenue between 2000-2010
    Record stores: 76% decline in revenue between 2000-2010
    Photofinishing: 69% decline in revenue between 2000-2010

    The current trend will lead to the crashing of all digitize-able and crowd-source-able markets. Music, professional journalism, and print media are notable casualties that have been hit first and hardest, but it is totally conceivable that essentially any market/product/skill/service that can be modeled with algorithms will go the way of the Dodo-bird and the printed newspaper. I truly believe that 20 years from now, engineering firms (and engineering jobs!) as we know them (mechanical, chemical, civil, etc.) will no longer exist. Engineering is, afterall, essentially applied math. Theoretically, a computer could do engineering much better, faster, cheaper, and more accurately than any human ever could. Why would I ever pay millions to an engineering firm, with their expansive teams of highly paid, highly trained engineers, to design my chemical plant, when I could just rip a software suite from a website, work with my one in-house engineer to check my assumptions, plug a few numbers Turbo-tax style into my chemical plant set-up wizard, and download the detailed engineering package for $149 plus tax. Parents everywhere will be imploring their children not to study chemical engineering at the university. “Don’t you want a good job?” they’ll ask. “Engineering! I know it sounds interesting, but think of the job market!” they’ll say. If university education even exists a quarter century from now, these will be the most popular majors at the most popular university – The YouTube Academy:

    • Outsourcing: Learn how to utilize crowd-sourcing and crowd-funding to get your project designed and financed, then exploit cheap labor markets for manufacturing everything. Become an Engineering-For-Dummies Software Suite™ super user. Time to degree: 9 months.
    • Ultra High Density Urban Architecture: Become an Architecture-For-Dummies™ super user. Minor in Cheap Housing Architecture to learn techniques for designing and building living arrangements for all the unemployed, hungry, huddled masses that have no opportunities because the internet destroyed their careers. Time to degree: 8 months.
    • Intellectual Rahabilitation: Teach people how to think deeply again. Internet addiction and internet over-usage are fueling a precipitous rise in I.R.A.D.D (Internet Rooted Attention Deficit Disorder). Help combat Facebook Syndrome! Most employers (at least the ones that are left) cannot find new graduates who can spell or read at an 8th grade level. OMG! Be part of the solution that will get America literate again, and let’s LOL at I.R.A.D.D.
    • Psychology of The Quarter-Life Crisis: Get all those depressed twenty-somethings to smile again! True, they cannot find gainful employment, but that’s no reason for them to kill themselves. Teach them to think positive! The internet may have robbed them of their jobs; but they should look on the bright side – they can watch cute cat videos all day long while they sit in their underwear eating cereal and Facebook-ing.
    • Mark Zuckerberg Ball Washing: No, Lord Zuck does not play golf – that’s soooo last century. LMFAO. He’s the youngest trillionaire in the world, and YOU made him that way by staying jacked into his mind control apparatus where he sells your eyeballs and tiny brainwaves to advertisers, thereby effectively selling your own shallow thoughts back to you. You actually had a chance to benefit from all this wealth creation, but no one heard Saint Lanier’s sermon on micro-payments for data. But this doesn’t mean you have to remain in serfdom forever. Luckily for you, Zuck likes to bathe…a lot. And he employs a legion of bathers to lather him up (Coming To America was his favorite movie as a kid). The highest paid positions deal with his nether-regions. But he is VERY particular concerning the washing of his balls. This crash course on Zuck Ball Washing will teach you everything you need to know to get all soapy, in the proper manner, with our Lord. A week after computers learned how to program themselves, Zuck laid off every Facebook employee except the janitors. The old Facebook C-Suite now spends their time soaping the royal sack. You can join them! What an honor! Time to degree: 3 years (sorry, this track has a demanding curriculum).

    • Bert,

      I am glad you took the time to post such a spectacular comment. I was afraid you wouldn’t address this post. I agree with your criticism of SF by the way, I first came to SF after spending nearly a year living in New Orleans, and I was actually disappointed at how much less funky and artistic it was than New Orleans. I chalked it up to real estate costs at the time. There is no way to a do a Pussy Cat Caverns in SF. In the mid 90′s it was basically a squat in an abandoned theater deep in the 9th ward that put on acid induced puppet shows and Crash Worship concerts. So yeah, I agree with all the Bay Area too straight-laced and A-Chronotyped criticism.

      I am not super comfortable being in the pro-Digital Maoist seat, but I will play along. I don’t doubt that we can find a lot of US market shrinkage. I tried to make the case that Global growth matters. I actually think it’s OK for wealth to flow out of the US back to the developing world if the effect is to actually raise the standard of living world-wide.

      The case for Music is similar to the case for all media which is just becoming “content” on the web now. It’s a tough problem. I am not 100% convinced that music is actually getting worse, because I am not sure that dignity is a necessity to creating great art. I was disgusted by the UB English program that churned out these bland middle-class poets gushing about the beauty of gardening. Notice that the first album of the average band is often the best. First they had plenty of time to work on it, but you may also note that they struggle in obscurity while writing that material.

      But it’s not as though I want artists and creative types to suffer. I do want to see a viable way for them to get paid. And I will actually acknowledge that Lanier’s approach is elegant if it could be implemented. But how the hell do we get there from here?

      The YouTube academy curriculum you posit is hilarious and insightful. You are really tapping into what Sterling calls Favella Chic and I agree that it’s easy to see a lot of people in the US being forced into reduced prospects. But I operate under the guiding assumption that technological advancement is a vast juggernaut that is essentially impossible to control. Maybe I am too fatalistic; I certainly concede that I am no great visionary. But it seems clear that this system won’t go into reverse and it’s not clear how to steer it.

      On the plus side, I think that there are real benefits to better connectivity in general. Lanier argues that the value provided by Big Data is largely “off the books” (i.e. the ego-inflation of certain types of Facebook masturbation). But that’s not the whole story. I literally couldn’t do MY job without Google and that’s true for a lot of information workers. I also don’t agree that engineering is strictly applied math. I have looked into this a little, and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of meaningful AI work in the area of “problem definition”. Given well defined problems AI excels, but problem definition is a out of scope right now for the vast majority (All?) of AI projects. (I’m not talking about AI textbook problem definition, I am thinking of real world problem defintion where goals are actually dynamic…) I would love some reader to prove me wrong with a reference by the way. So it’s non-trivial to algorithmically design a factory for example because the borders of the problem are nebulous. The problem definition itself is this complex negotiation between interests as varied as Government regulators (bribable and non-bribable), finance providers, normal logistics, tax-credits, etc. etc.

      So there is real value for humans to add for now, because it will be a while before algorithms can tackle things like problem definition. If you accept that these digital trends are a sort of freight train that is difficult to control, the question becomes: what CAN we do about it? Is your only advice to simply unplug? You are a smart guy. Can you spare some of your high-powered brain cycles from your admittedly important and globally beneficial day-job to consider realistic solutions to the problems you decry?

      There, I am throwing down the gauntlet!



  3. In one sense, I’m in agreement that much of the phenomena identified here is happening, but I’ve never been impressed by Lanier, and although I haven’t read any of these book (I’ve got far too many other books waiting to be read), what I’m gathering about his analysis seems misplaced.

    Workplace productivity has been increasing since the industrial revolution started; by “productivity” I mean the ability to create “more” (which encompassed some forms of “better”) with fewer inputs. The one that has been making folks nervous for many decades is the replacement of human labor with automation. There are plenty of New Yorker cartoons from the fifties reflecting this anxiety.

    At the time it was convincingly pointed out that increases in productivity free up resources that are then used elsewhere, increasing the size of the overall economy. The digital economy hasn’t stopped this trend — take a look at Bert’s list of eight industries that have shrunk and note that seven of are cherry-picked to represent those profoundly effected by new media.

    The appearance of “Apparel Manufacturing” on there gave me pause, so I poked around. The original source of this is from the American Bankers Association, and is specifically identifying “ten dying industries” in the United States. The decline of the American apparel industry started long before the internet gain traction, and the critical technology in starting the decline of the music industry was the big and cheap hard drive. Napster wasn’t exactly high tech, much less based on “crowd-sourced” and driven by internet-based “algorithms”. This is supposed to be news? This is supposed to be a “reliable” data set that the internet is destroying “many” markets? As evidence, this is a big Fail. I don’t know why a denier of Saint Lanier isn’t permitted to claim that someone’s sources are suspect, so I’ll go ahead and say it: take a look at the article these figures come from. It doesn’t claim the internet is responsible at all, exception for the brief mention in the example of what happened to stores like Blockbuster. This isn’t an argument — this is just making up barely plausible “just so” stories that are only loosely connected to any real-world data.

    Yeah, the flawless replication of digital content is decimating industries that capitalized on the historic difficulty of distributing pre-digital media. Times are shitty in those industries, but the money not being spent on that media is freed up for other purchases, so we get back to the old arguments about changing economies. We all know the cliche about buggy whips — how is this different?

    (And, sorry, Bert, but your opinion that “the remaining stuff is much worse” is just so much old-fogey nonsense: you are just recapitulating the prior generations disgust with that new-fangled rock ’n’ roll. You’ll never be able to ‘prove’ in any real way that qualia that you find distasteful are objectively worse than those you approve of — it’s just a losing argument.)

    More recently, the worry about humans being replaced by automation has a new twist, but Lanier neither discovered it, nor does he seem to be elucidating it in any coherent way. By focusing on his bête noire of the internet, Lanier has proven he isn’t even looking in the correct direction. The consumption of digital media might indeed be making us “dumber” in some interesting way (although despite Plato’s Phaedrus, I think literacy has been a good thing, and I’m not convinced that “IRADD” is any more of a problem than Socrates’ worry), but the economic danger isn’t coming from the ‘web.

    Both manufacturing (being pioneered by those dastardly villains at Makers Faires with their 3D printers) and improvements in AI (the collapse of the radiology profession being the poster child, until Watson matures and wipes out other specialities) foreshadow a new face of automation: production with effectively no human input at all. The past centuries of automation always required humans, who received wages and consumed goods and services which drove the expansion of the economy. The more sophisticated the goods and services, the larger the pyramid of workers; the idea that an automobile — much less a computer or airplane — could be created without such a broad and deep economy was never conceivable — until now. We’re still far from that day, but the omens are there.

    Lanier is just a geek celebrity, and a lousy pundit. There are big changes in store, but his fretfulness deserves no more attention than Bill Joy or Prince Charles’ concerns about grey goo. Ignore him.

  4. This is why I’m sick of Lanier — the interviewer introduces him as the man who “invented virtual reality”. And that’s really what he’s know for, isn’t it? And it’s a lie. Page through the wikipedia entry of VR and he is mentioned as a popularizer of the term and one on a list of twenty-six “pioneers”. As far as I can tell, all he did was some moderately clever R&D on a topic that the media fell in love with for “let’s look at the future!” stories, and then he’s ridden that horse into a career as a pundit and “visiting scholar”.

    “I’m trying to show that with digital technology we can get out from under the stupid dichotomy between capitalism and marxism”; “if you’d like, I’m trying to push capitalism so far that it transforms into something different” — only a superficial nitwit would think that by pontificating on ephemeral technology could he “transform” something so fundamental to human nature (which he thinks is a “stupid dichotomy”???). Apparently several centuries of social philosophers are morons compared to him.

    Actually, yeah: I finally realized who he reminds me of. Vizzini, from Princess Bride. Someone so full of himself that he never realizes that his intellect is not only not towering above others, but is actually quite banal.

    Cory Doctorow has done so much more exploring how technology is changing economic reality and where it could go in the future. Lanier is like Smart Food popcorn — something branded to appeal to people’s ideas of what is probably cool and wonderful, but empty junk food nevertheless.

    • Richard, can I call you Dick? Thanks.

      Dick, I’m offering you the red pill. Take it, and you will realize that you are stuck in an ever-expanding matrix that is slowly but surely encroaching on your life, liberty, and happiness. Join us humanists in our resistance against the siren servers and cockroach advertisers. If you choose to take the blue pill and remain a fluffer to the siren servers, then the rest of this post is a big ole gob of e-spittle in your eye. Your decision. Power to people!

      First of all, Dick, my evidence that many markets are shrinking, possibly due to movement towards digital platforms, actually seems to be defensible (at least according to Scott). So there, I pwned you (I’ll try to use non-words you can actually understand, and perhaps I’ll insert a cute kitten GIF later to keep you entertained). Furthermore, I at least talk about data from a sketchy blog in a tongue-in-cheek manner. You quite seriously use Wikipedia as a data source. Given the context of this debate, your reliance on Wikipedia to trash Saint Lanier is funny and sad on many, many levels. Hell, for all I know, you may have written the Wiki on VR that you reference. Finally, Lanier never claimed to have invented VR. He routinely claims to have been instrumental in its development, so perhaps you should blame Keen, the interviewer. Finally, finally, the fact that you don’t even realize that the “interviewer” is the famous Andrew Keen blows any credibility you might have ever had concerning this debate. Ooooooh! Double pwn!

      The sirens almost have you! Quick, take the red pill!

      Despite the fact you have not read Lanier, and obviously know nothing about him or his ideas, you cry out, “This is why I’m sick of Lanier.” You obviously have the attention span of a Facebook-loving gnat. You’re already “sick” of something you just got introduced to all of 3 days ago. When you’re not tweeting, or twittering, or twatting, or doing whatever else it is your foreshortened attention span can actually support, you should check out Lanier’s work. It is neither banal, nor deserving of derision. He’s a clear-sighted humanist in a sea of siren server ball-washers. Zuck’s bath has been drawn, and he’s calling for you.

      • Bert – although I couldn’t help laughing until my side ached a little at your latest rant, I wil come to Richard’s defense here. I happen to know that he is an avid reader. I mean he’s a REALLY avid reader and he certainly has an above average attention span. I agree that he is being overly critical of Lanier without having read him. Richard, you might take the time to peruse the “Digital Maoism” article at least.

        I’m on the fence about the shrinking markets thing, but I will reiterate that it’s going to be a real problem if we can’t figure out how content creators get paid. Richard, I am actually surprised that you don’t agree with that somewhat. I do believe that free information will tend to degrade content over the long term.

        Keen is sort of douche, but I have to admit that he makes some good points. I just don’t like this attitude that experts should be bowed down before and that the unwashed masses should shut the fuck up. I mean are the professional journalists at Fox news to be considered experts? I agree that Web 2.0 generates a lot of noise and that makes finding “good” content more challenging. Just having too many choices has that effect as well. But I think that Web 2.0 probably did more good than harm. Maybe mainstream News outlets were getting too corporate anyway. We just need to figure out a way to get more funding to independent news organizations so they can do that resource intensive reporting. I say bring more voices into the mix and just develop better search to separate the wheat from the chaff. This fellow Paul Bohm that I met in the Futurist scene has some ideas around that.

        • It seems interesting to note that Jaron only spoke up about these problems with digital distribution and :Siren Servers” after trying and failing to start a digital music company himself. In fact he was the invited keynote speaker at the first conference held in San Diego CA by their CEO Michael Robertson.

          He presented his ideas there for his digital music company which rather hilariously had not launched and also had a number of major legal and technical problems/holes that were sort of obvious to those of us actually building services present in the audience.

          I spoke privately with some people from a couple of other start ups afterwards about this. At this time I was CTO of and we launched the very first version of our service quietly just a few weeks later.

          The assessments above about his involvement in the “invention” of virtual reality are pretty much correct. Jaron neither invented the field of visual simulation, as it was known previously, not the use of head coupled displays. People at companies like Evans & Sutherland and SInger-Link had been working on this stuff for years. However Jaron and his company VPL certainly did a lot to popularize the idea and they were influential in the early 90s when I was developing financial visualization tools, VR tools and training systems.

          Another VPL-er George Zachary later worked at Silicon Graphics (SGI) and helped to launch the original 3D game machine the Nintendo N64 thereby creating the modern 3D game industry. Although we mostly don’t call this stuff virtual reality anymore, creating 3D game media is now a larger enterprise than Hollywood films.

          I’ll tip my hat to George and not Jaron on this one though.

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